Saturday Snapshot: Cho-Cho

Only a week away from home and I am already missing Cho-Cho looking at me through the window.  So I have to settle for a mere picture of him looking at me through a browser window.  At least he won’t lick it from the outside like he does at home!

My puppy dog

I would smuggle him with me to Arizona, but Cho-Cho would likely not fit in my suitcase. Or my apartment. Or the state of Arizona.

March Oddness

A selection of ten vaguely March-related odds (oddses?) – inspired by some I posted on Facebook earlier this month.

  • Odds of having an allergy: 5 to 1.
  • Odds of luggage reaching the airport later than its owner: 70 to 1.
  • Odds of a Wikipedia article having no mistakes: 86 to 1.
  • Odds of a person reading this entry while drunk: 99 to 1.
  • Odds of being on a plane with a drunken pilot: 117 to 1.
  • Odds of dying while building Hoover Dam: 155 to 1.
  • Odds of losing your cell phone today: 375 to 1.
  • Odds of finding a four-leaf clover on the first try: 10,000 to 1.
  • Odds of winning tonight’s $640 million Mega-Million Jackpot: 175,711,535 to 1.
  • Odds of having a perfect March Madness bracket: 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1.

Odds of these statistics being completely correct: probably quite slim, as I found them all on the Internet.  But I still think they’re fun to look at.

The Not-So-Hungry Games

Isn’t it peculiar that in a movie called “The Hunger Games” we never actually see anyone hungry?  Eating, yes:

Hunger Games Eating

The train to the Capitol is filled with treats, as is the penthouse.  The Gamemakers have a pig (sans apple). Katniss shares a roll with Gale.  Katniss gets burned bread from Peeta.  Katniss roasts a squirrel.  Katniss shares a groosling with Rue.  Peeta slurps some broth. The old man in District 12 munches on something with tiny bones.

What seems to be missing is a portrayal of the not-eating.  The District 12 of the books is described as a place where people are literally starving to death.  The people of the Seam walk out into the streets, dazed from lack of food, and stumble along until the life leaves their bodies.  When Katniss and Gale drag a single deer back from the woods, there is a riot over so much meat.  The two teens sell the remainder of the carcass and still make more money than they’ve ever had before.

In one of the opening scenes of the movie, Gale deliberately ruins Katniss’s shot at a deer.
Where’s the disconnect?

Starving ChildrenThe root of the problem seems to stem from the fact that book and film are different mediums.  In prose, it’s simple to describe extreme poverty and leave the details to the reader’s own brain.  But in a visual medium like film, the viewer receives description firsthand, primarily through the sense of sight.  It’s one thing to read about starvation or sex or kids fighting to the death.  It’s another to actually see it.

So part of the issue has to be the graphic nature of seeing people slouched in the streets, dying from starvation.  The strength of infomercials about starving children in third-world countries comes from the audience seeing the stick-skinny arms, the protruding ribs, the distended bellies.  It’s disturbing and designed to induce empathy, to get the viewer to say, “Make it stop!”  The sad Sarah McLaughlin animal commercials succeed in the same fashion.  But the movie portrayal deliberately avoids such heart-wrenching images.  Sure, the people of District 12 are poor as dirt, but they all seem pretty well-fed.

The only empathy that I ended up feeling for the denizens of District 12 was in the vein of, “Sorry you’re stuck in 1950s Appalachia.  That’s a bummer.  Better start building rockets so you can win the science fair.”

Hunger Games Trailer

Another problem film has with depicting extreme hunger: it’s generally not okay to starve your actors to such extremes.  Now, big-name actors will do this on occasion in order to portray specific roles, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire, and Christian Bale in The Machinist.  But asking scores of extras (particularly young extras) to do the same is completely unrealistic.

But wait! you say. One of the best makeup teams in Hollywood worked on this movie.
Everything from wigs to wounds was executed with great attention to detail.  You wouldn’t have to actually starve the children, just fake it.  And you wouldn’t have to show all of the District, but perhaps just one or two people to illustrate the hunger of the people in the Seam.  If you had to, you could just focus on Katniss in the rainy scene, so it’s less like she’s taking a nap against a tree and more like she’s actually starving when Peeta chooses to throw bread at her.

Relationships Trump VenisonYes, the movie could have done any of those things, but ultimately that wasn’t the direction it took.
The hunger was left by the wayside to focus on the games.
Do I blame the movie’s creators?
Not really.  Swords and bows are more exciting than a milk-producing goat.  Exposition and conveying a relationship is more crucial than Katniss bringing home some venison.  To be fair, there were allusions to being hungry – showing Katniss’s excitement over Gale’s roll, the long panning shot of the ridiculous food on the train – so I give them props for that.

Overall, though, the movie didn’t succeed at showing the desperation and hunger conveyed in the book.  It wasn’t keyed into the basic needs that caused Katniss and Gale to take tesserae and risk worse odds in the Reaping.  We don’t hear why Gale has forty-two entries – the audience only gets a hurried warning from Katniss to Prim in the goodbye scene to understand that.  This absence is nothing near enough to condemn the film for;
The Hunger Games is one of the more successful adaptations I’ve seen in a while.  But the lack of a depiction of a District both impoverished and starving was just enough of a irritant for me to pick at.  No hungry people there.

Gale and Peeta Magazine Cover

Instead, the Hunger Games movie presents us with charismatic, well-fed young actors to identify with and root for, in the tradition of Hollywood.  The characters are groomed so that the audience will like them and then spend money seeing the movie.  It’s shallow, and should make any fan uncomfortable even as they revel in the movie’s success: we’ve been cast as the culture Katniss combats.  Yikes.
I think I need some comfort food.

Ice Cream Showdown

I was innocently browsing the grocery store’s frozen food section when two ice cream flavors began to aggressively compete for my attention: Dreyer’s Cookie Dough and Mint Cookie Crunch.  Here is a transcript of the fierce debate:

*   *   *

Cookie Dough: Let me just start by saying that I’m made with mini NESTLÉ® TOLLHOUSE® morsels ©©©©™® whereas my competiton is filled with ripoff “sandwich cookies.”

Mint Cookie Crunch: That’s just advertising.  Your “morsels” have as much in common with Tollhouse® cookies as they do with Doritos Locos® Tacos.

CD: But even if we go by quality of cookie chunk, I’m better off than you.  You can actually nibble on my cookie pieces, that’s how large they are.

MCC: Bigger isn’t always better. I have only 120 calories per serving.  That’s 30 less than you, gut-inducer.

CD: We’re ice cream.  Calories are irrelevant.  We’re what people eat after they binge on half a bag of potato chips and the last of the Valentine’s Day candy.  We have twelve freaking servings in our containers. Do the math.

MCC: Okay, forget that.  The low-fat ice creams can duke that one out.

CD: Stupid low-fat ice creams.

MCC: It’s flavor that matters.  Speaking of which, I have an actual flavor.  I don’t really need these cookie bits to taste special.  They just compliment my naturally scrumptious mintiness. But you… Without your cookie pieces, what are you?

CD: Delicious?

MCC: You’re vanilla.  That’s a fate worse than strawberry.

CD: I have more than just the cookie chunks!  I also have these little chocolate chips mixed in!

MCC: You mean those frozen tasteless triangles that make you feel like you’ve swallowed a fistful of pebbles with your ice cream?

CD: They actually crunch.  Unlike the soggy squishy cookies smushed into your sad self.

MCC: I am a mastery of texture, a chewy delight!

CD: You’re soggy ripoff cookies disguised by minty cologne.

MCC: Wannabe vanilla poser!

CD: Low-fat ice cream!

MCC: Now that’s just mean.

Me: Hey guys, you do realize that it’s buy-one-get-one-free on Dreyer’s today, right?

CD & MCC: …Hurray!

MCC: I forgot why I was mad at you.

CD: I’m sorry I called you soggy.  Let’s move in together.  I know a college kid’s apartment freezer with our name on it…

MCC: Yes, let’s be friends!  Until one of us gets eaten!  Hurray!

Me: Glad that’s settled. [takes both ice creams]

CD: …Bet I get used up first.

What Snowmen Can Teach Us

Snowman States of Being

Three phone pictures I took (in order) of a snowman constructed over Spring Break.  He’s certainly one of the more photogenic snowmen I’ve made, from his birth to his death.  This guy was allowed to degrade naturally, with no human interference. Unfortunately I had to fly back to ASU before he melted entirely, but I like how in the third image he’s almost mummy-esque, his pieces lying around him.

Materials: snow (one deck’s worth), rocks (6), pine branches (4), and baby carrot (1).

Nonword of the Week: Nonword

Introducing a weekly feature!  Every Monday I’m going to post a new nonword and its definition on the blog.  What is a nonword?

Nonword: the combination of a real word with one or more prefixes or suffixes in order to express a concept that would otherwise take multiple words to describe.  A word that is not a word, but really should be.

Example: Chelsea’s presentation was so full of nonwords that it was well-received by the younger generation but perplexing to everyone over thirty.

Related nonwords: unword, portmanteauing

Nonwords have been cropping up all over the place, especially on the internet.  “Friended” comes to us courtesy of Facebook.  “Retweet” from Twitter.  “Fabulosity” was even trademarked by Kimora Lee Simmons. “Ridiculousness,” an arguable nonword, is a Rob Dyrdek-hosted MTV series.

Ideally, a nonword is not redundant – if there is an existing word to use, then a nonword is unnecessary. Nonwords may be officially recognized as words, but perhaps they have fallen out of common usage and have only recently become popular again (like “ridiculousness”) or are brand new dictionary additions.  Nonwords are closely related to portmanteaus – combinations of two or more words – but generally speaking they are constructed from just one root word and prefixes/suffixes.

Have a unique nonword of your own?  Post it in the comments!

Disclaimer: This is my own definition of “nonword” – it differs from the one in the dictionary.  I do not condone idle word-mangling.  Please mangle your words with care. Should not be attempted by the faint of heart or those with reading disorders.  Side-effects include peculiar looks, disapproving frowns, essay markdowns, and utter confusion.

Kids Fighting to the Death

The Hunger Games

I know, not exactly a light topic for my second post, but now is probably the time to post it (considering the great debut for the recently-released Hunger Games movie).One of the reactions to the movie and the book series that I find peculiar is the idea that kids fighting each other to the death is shockingly awful and not something you want to expose to teens and even tweens.

Shade's Children

My first response to that (as a writing student and long-time lover of YA and adult science fiction) – it’s not exactly new, folks.  I understand that this is the first “mainstream” introduction of the topic in this decade, but kids killing and kids dying has been a theme of young adult science fiction for a long time.  One of my favorite YA novels to tackle this is Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix.  Premise: aliens come to Earth, disappear everyone over the age of 15, and collect the children.  When those children turn 15, they are taken and engineered into semi-human creatures that are used by the aliens in war games against one another.  There is prodigious killing of and killing by children/young adults (plus a dash of X-Men), and it’s a creepy but great read.

Ender's GameOf course, there are others.  Some of John Christopher’s stories come to mind, and certainly Ender’s Game has related elements.  (One of the reasons I’m pleased with the success of The Hunger Games is it paves the way for the Ender’s Game movie in 2013.) Suzanne Collins’s trilogy is not uncharted territory.

Why?  Because kids like to read about life-and-death stakes for people their age, the same way adults like thrillers or mysteries or military fiction.  The problem is, in modern-day American culture there is no room for that sort of scenario.  Violence among young people is discouraged by society.  There is no valid reason for kids to be fighting to the death, and the authorities do their best to stop it. So kid-on-kid violence has been relegated to the realm of speculative fiction, particularly science fiction.  Something has to happen to throw the authorities and general society out-of-whack enough that children are permitted to kill and to die.  An apocalyptic event (Fire-us series); aliens (Shade’s Children); or some other device has to basically transplant the children of today into life-or-death stakes.

Amazon: Battle Royale

This makes the particular genre of gladiator children small and interrelated.  I know there’s been a lot of fuss about the Hunger Games series resembling Battle Royale, where children fighting to the death with one sole survivor also appears.  Here’s the thing: the narrowness of the genre makes similarities inevitable.  Instead of being protected by authority figures, children are allowed to fight.  The authorities must either be dead, indifferent, or condone this action.  If they condone this action, it’s either because there is some greater need (Ender’s Game) or because the killing represents some form of entertainment or contest.  The field is limited.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to read The Hunger Games when it came out (2008) was because I was writing something eerily similar to it already, started in 2003. The working title was “The Bloodsands.”  Premise: in a future post-apocalyptic USA (the Tri-Union of America), corporations collect and sponsor orphaned teens/tweens.  These kids are trained and then set to kill each other for entertainment purposes.  You can imagine my dismay at watching something so similar not only become a successful book trilogy, but the next YA book-to-movie phenomenon.  Something that I thought was my own invention (I was a naive teenaged writer) had been patented, marketed, and was flying off the shelves.

So, to all those saying The Hunger Games is a ripoff of this book or that movie: There is nothing new under the sun.  There were wizard schools before Harry Potter, supernatural romances before Twilight, and kid death-matches before The Hunger Games.  It just so happens that those particular remixes spoke to young adults, debuted during a high point in YA sci-fi/fantasy, and became really, really popular.

If a 13 year-old (me, circa 2003) connected to the premise enough to not only read stories where kids kill and die, but write them, I’m certain other kids feel the same way. It may be new and fresh to the American public at large, but to young people there will always be a hunger for the same high stakes adults are afforded.